Given that it only afflicts about 1 out of every 40,000 Americans, odds are that you don't know anybody that has or had Bell's Palsy
. Now you do.
Upon returning home last Friday night, I noticed that it was a little tricky for me to take a drink from a bottle of water, but didn't really think much about it. The next morning, my mouth still didn't feel just right, and a look in the mirror seemed to show that the left side of my face was drooping. It was that fast.
I went to the ER, petty sure that I hadn't had a stroke, but knowing that something wasn't right. I had heard of Bell's, and once I googled the symptoms on my Treo while in the ER, I knew the diagnosis before I even heard it from the neurologist. Nevertheless, having somebody who actually knows what they're doing tell you that you have it is like getting a kick in the teeth from somebody in scrubs.
Bell's is an idiopathic virus, essentially meaning that doctors aren't really sure what it stems from. There has been a correlation between getting Bell's and having had a previous respiratory infection, and given that I had been fighting what I thought to be a chest cold for a few weeks, I guess chalking it up to that and fate works as well as anything else. The fact that stress doesn't seem to help matters fits pretty well into the overall scenario for me.
The virus affects one of the cranial nerves (CN7), which in turn causes varying degrees of paralysis on that side of the face. In my case, my left side. If I'm expressionless, you may not pick it up at first, but you will eventually notice the asymmetry. The more animated I become, the greater the disparity between the two sides of my face. So far, I try to deal with it by staying relatively expressionless, making the situation a little less awkward for me and whoever I'm talking with.
The virus itself can be treated through a combination of steroids and antivirals. The bigger question is when, and to what extent, the resulting nerve damage is repaired. The good news is that about 50% of the cases resolve themselves in a few weeks to a few months. Another 35% of the cases get back to normal in about a year. The remaining 15% never get fully back to normal. While I'm trying to keep a positive outlook on the whole issue, I don't think that the figure of 15% has ever seemed so damn big before.
Yesterday, I went for acupuncture, which has been shown to have some beneficial effects on recovery. That whole experience is definitely worthy of a later post all its own. In the interim, I am taking about 30 pills a day, on a schedule requiring some form of quasi-military precision.
Listen, I can look all around me (or unfortunately, on a day like today, no further than DeKalb) and realize that in the big picture, I don't have a damn thing to complain about. And I get that, I really do. I guess that the bigger point of this post is an attempt to get this off of my chest (and mind), and to remind everybody to enjoy each day because you never know what the next one will bring.
I look forward to trying to get back into a regular routine, and am hopeful that this may just wind up as little more than a reflection on an anxiety-laden episode in my life that made me appreciate things a little bit (a lot) more. If it turns out that I overreacted to something that goes away in a month, I'm more than okay with that. If this turns out to be something that I have to deal with for the longer haul, well, what can you do? Time will tell. Thanks for hearing me out.